Somewhere in Iran, there is a bus station; a social junction where everyday commuters meet for a moment of solace. As the ongoing traffic continuously deafens the metropolitan city sphere, many in the area merely get lost in a sea of ongoing human flow. In this bus station, there is a bag. Nobody really knows who owns it at first, but the bag and its various other components eventually settle in its lost state against the ongoing movement. Who owns this mysterious object? But more importantly, what does it precisely symbolise? In Asghar Farhadi’s latest moral tale of human perception and social satisfaction, the aforementioned ominous bag is the route of its central conflict. An object directly translating as a metaphor for both the influence in which capitalism directly moves the lives and fate of its working class populace, the context of the bag’s initial origins is purposefully left out of the picture. As more is revealed about the bag and its ownership, Farhadi gently ignites an ambiguous inciting conflict to great dramatic effect.
Revolving around Rahim (Amir Jadidi) and his 48-hour stint involving his search for absolution against a year’s worth of collected debt, A Hero commences its parable by directly setting up its time dependent stakes. As the clock continuously ticks away, Farhadi introduces each of his key players. We see Rahim’s family, as they are continuously enamoured by his determination and journey for creditor forgiveness. It isn’t until later in the film, where the bag-subplot is finally introduced. Where Farhadi cleverly refuses to pronounce any clear answers involving the bag’s provenance, the viewer is left to reminisce upon specific narrative cues within the film’s setup. It’s an unconventional mystery of sorts, one that is effectively procedural and motivated against its Chekhov’s Gun character introductions.
What follows is a commentary on perception; as the bag kindles a unique social phenomenon. It’s the moment where Farhadi asks his audience “what precisely makes a good deed?” Is it the face value context of a motivated action? Or should further investigation be in place when considering someone’s previous offenses and criminality? A Hero, first and foremost, never settles for easy answers. Rahim’s tale of rags to riches plays like a greek tragedy; a journey that is continuously destined to fail against his optimistic leniency towards social attitudes. Just like The Salesman (2015) and even his Spanish melodrama Everybody Knows (2018), Farhadi mixes melodrama and sharp character motivations to great effect. There is a consistent universality to each of his films, regardless of the location or even cultural differences in place — where Rahim’s desperation is instantaneously relatable and comprehensive.
Yet where Farhadi succeeds in his articulate setup and even eventual resolutions, the content found within the transitory setpieces often lack a certain amount of urgency. For example, in Farhadi’s previous feature endeavors, dialogue is frequently implemented to compliment the visual storytelling on screen. In The Salesman (2015), the subtext and implementation of Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman is what ultimately builds a unique marriage between mise-en-scene and narrative progression. We see the creation of a theatre production live on screen; creating a meta-narrative that can only be truly accomplished through the power of cinema. With A Hero on the other hand, its dialogue heavy accomplishments frequently fail to compliment Farhadi’s visuals and utilisation of different locations.
In moments, overuse of abundant dialogue and repetitive beats create a stagnant pace that reiterates the obvious conflicts present between Rahim and his family. Scenes eventually become sluggish, as Farhadi attempts to one-up the narrative stakes with new revelations and subplots. At a certain point, A Hero becomes exhausting to sit through; a broken record film containing effective composition, only for it to eventually repeat itself once again. It’s ironic that Rahim’s eventual downfall directly compliments A Hero’s disordered third-act pace.
At its best, there is an urgent message at the core of Farhadi’s latest; in regards to the film’s commentary on social attitudes, class privilege, and media sensationalism. At its worst, A Hero becomes slightly degrading in its moments of monotonous repetition. But for what it’s worth —as both a moral tale and an engrossing worth of articulate drama— A Hero effectively interrogates its viewer through various tasking and comprehensive recounts. The film is completely dependent on the audience’s personal perception of events; a narrative that more than justifies its existence and presence in the cinematic form with its integration of shifting character perspectives. Just like the existence and visual symbolism behind the film’s cryptic bag, the core metaphor in regards to capitalism as a form of pressured punishment provides an engaging thesis for a film that predominantly succeeds in its scattershot moments of unpredictable dialogue-heavy tragedy.
This review is from the 74th Cannes Film Festival. Amazon will release A Hero later this year.